College: Appealing a financial aid package
“If you are thinking about negotiating your university-bound child’s financial aid offers, you had better start working on your pitch,” said Gail MarksJarvis in Reuters.com. Inbound freshmen have until May 1 to accept or reject aid offers received earlier this month from universities. While it used to be rare that parents would appeal a student’s aid package, it’s now virtually standard practice. “With the final tab for private college running more than $70,000 a year and public universities close to $35,000, a great deal of money is at stake.” The average aid package trims $20,000 per year from private college fees and $6,000 from state universities. But proceed carefully. “What may look like the largest offer might not be the best,” said Jessica Dickler in CNBC.com. “Terms aren’t always clear,” so carefully go through each offer “line by line” to separate out scholarships and grants, which don’t have to be repaid, from loans, which do.
“Don’t jump to conclusions by looking at the bottom line,” said Terry Savage in the Chicago Tribune. “The largest aid package may also bring overwhelming debt,” and loans are a burden your student will carry “for many years.” Read the fine print on the “ingredients” of the package. Are the grants renewable in future years, or do they just apply to freshman year? Does the interest on loans accrue while the student is still in college? Does some of the package consist of parents’ PLUS loans or private loans with higher interest rates? Calculate, too, the exact cost of fees, books, and supplies, as well as expenses such as student health insurance. If you do decide to appeal, “ask for a specific amount of additional aid, based on what your family can afford,” said Chana Schoenberger in The Wall Street Journal. And be sure to look into that particular school’s process for filing an appeal—whether it’s filing an online or paper form, or sending in a letter. Following the procedure carefully will probably increase your chances of getting more aid.
“Always seek tuition discounts, grants, and scholarships over loans if you want a debt-free degree,” said John Wasik in Forbes.com. You will also have a much stronger case for appealing an aid decision if you can prove your family’s financial situation has changed since you originally filed. “Any negative change in a family’s financial status should be detailed in the aid appeal letter.” Numbers matter—detail the impact of any loss of income, unexpected medical expenses, support of an elderly relative, or even a divorce or separation. “Whatever you do, don’t get on the phone and start yelling at an aid officer. That will backfire.”